A few posts of interest caught my attention today, starting with a discussion of health, free radicals, oxidative stress and aging from Anne C.:
Many health-oriented sites on the Web and popular magazine articles and books will emphasize the role of nutrients, diet, and moderate exercise in promoting longevity. If you follow the advice from the better sources in that particular pool of information, you might indeed end up gaining yourself a few extra years of health in old age. But when I think of "longevity", I don't think in terms of "living to age 80 and still being able to play golf", as most of the aforementioned sources probably do. I think in terms of "living to age 80 and not having to worry about increased risk of cancer, immune collapse, organ failure, heart disease, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer's, or any number of other things that have long resulted in pain and death for people in your age group". Why should any group of people be expected to just accept pain and death, particularly on account of a factor as ludicrously arbitrary as how old they are?
Especially now that we're moving into an age in which we can engineer a material difference to the impact of aging on the human condition. Why sit still when there are the medicines of longevity to be built, when the biochemistry of aging awaits human understanding? These are the years of the biotechnology revolution, and we can enact great change in health and longevity if we but set ourselves to work.
Moving on, Attila Chordash posted a reminder late last month on the complexities of biology. Stem cells are not always stem cells, and the populations of stem cells in our bodies are much more dynamic and varied than might be convenient for the advance of regenerative medicine:
It has long been suspected that cells other than those that maintain homeostasis (actual stem cells) can take over stem cell function in certain situations, and they have been referred to as potential stem cells ... Indeed it seems that transit-amplifying progenitor cells are potential stem cells in this system and when actual stem cells are lost due to an injury or perhaps naturally over time, the remaining progenitor cells or progenitor cells acquired by transplantation have the potential to acquire stem cell functions.
A constantly changing system of many parts is harder to understand and manipulate. If stem cells in any given tissue come in several flavors, changing over time in their biochemistry, then that will add additional time and cost to the cycle of research and development. Success is inevitable, but we should not become careless and assume that success will occur in time to help us fight our age-related degenerations. All the more reason to become involved and support medical research!
Callahan's bioethics appears to be a code for denying individuals choice on the grounds that society has more urgent goals
Aging kills about 100,000 people per day worldwide. Do we have any other problems as "pressing" as something that kills people at that rate?
If our funding decisions today bring the eradication of aging just one year closer, that would save the lives of a larger number of people than the population of Canada.
And who on Earth is he to say that the individual desire to avoid death "is not legitimate"?
I actually agree with Dr Callahan. He is absolutely 100% right and that is why healthcare should be privately funded. After all, if I spend my cash on being able to celebrate turning eleventy-one and am fit enough to break-dance on the occasion then what business is it of the esteemed Dr?
There is a fundamental problem with what M.r. Callahan is saying, all my other qualms with his words stem from it: He implicitly assumes, through the way he makes his case, that funding and research are somehow things that must be centrally directed by tax funded research. By saying "we" he's really talking about the state funded institutions and laboratories, and in case he's not, then he's certainly assuming that what research is done will surely be conducted with centralized direction. This is a commonly occuring blindness in social debate of any kind. First of all, as far as numerous sources of private research and funding go, its none of his business. Whether trying to reverse aging is legitimate or not is entirely a subjective choice of whomever decides to or not to fund it.
Without choice and freedom, what is left? Too many people in this world are all too ready to condemn their fellow travelers to shackled lives, forced into directions they would not have chosen. And to what end? There is something wrong with that part of the human mind that leads us to this state.